Best holiday wishes to all, and thanks to readers for your continued interest and insightful comments.
In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d post my favorite news item of the year almost past and encourage members of the commentariat (to use one reader’s coinage) to provide theirs. The post below originally ran in March:
This is such a good story that I decided it deserved its own slot, rather than being featured in links.
Dolphins haven’t been studied as intensively as monkeys, but there is ample anecdotal evidence, and some research, suggesting that they approach humans in intelligence (one philosopher, having surveyed the literature, argued that they are “non-human persons”). Dolphins are the only non-human species known to form ad hoc groups across established social lines to perform specific tasks and to seek out humans out of what appears to be curiosity.
One incident: two dolphins in a research program did routines for the public. The first would do a sonar demonstration, blindfolded; the second did a program made of tricks she had invented.
One day both dolphins, each in its holding tank, were very agitated. During their performances, the sonar dolphin was hesitant and the one who did the tricks did them out of order. The researchers later found they had mixed the dolphins up. Each dolphin understood that it was expected to execute the other’s program and did it as well as she could.
I wish I had employees that had that much sense.
From the BBC:
A dolphin has come to the rescue of two whales which had become stranded on a beach in New Zealand.
The pygmy sperm whales had repeatedly beached, and both they and the humans were tired and set to give up, he said.
But then the dolphin appeared, communicated with the whales, and led them to safety.
The bottlenose dolphin, called Moko by local residents, is well known for playing with swimmers off Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island.
Mr Smith said that just when his team was flagging, the dolphin showed up and made straight for them.
“I don’t speak whale and I don’t speak dolphin,” Mr Smith told the BBC, “but there was obviously something that went on because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea.”
He added: “The dolphin did what we had failed to do. It was all over in a matter of minutes.”
Mr Smith said he felt fortunate to have witnessed the extraordinary event, and was delighted for the whales, as in the past he has had to put down animals which have become beached.
He said that the whales have not been seen since, but that the dolphin had returned to its usual practice of playing with swimmers in the bay.
“I shouldn’t do this I know, we are meant to remain scientific,” Mr Smith said, “but I actually went into the water with the dolphin and gave it a pat afterwards because she really did save the day.”
That’s a picture of Moko, not a stock photo. The BBC also has a little video (BBC videos always crash my browsers, but I suspect it’s worth watching). And there’s a more detailed version of the story here.